Nov 28, 2005

The last days
To do by next Wednesday (posted here, in order of worry, so you'll know and I'll stop listing everything to myself in my head):

Write 30 - 50 pg thesis on the possibility of a linguistic solution to the mind body problem.
Latin midterm.
Write and present a 10 - 15 pg paper on Wittgenstein.
Write 10 - 15 pg paper on Plato. Canceled.
Philosophy comprehensive test.
GRE test.
Finish Death of God paper (for now).
Begin filling out grad school applications.

The good news is it's raining.

Nov 27, 2005

The high scaffold, Thanksgiving '02

The snow was swallowing our car, the lights playing out a lulling snowflake vortex and I was trying not to fall asleep. The girls in the back were talking Sunday school curriculum, comparing and getting excited about the holiday weekend and going back to their church at home and seeing people, the old Sunday school teachers. They were comparing Sunday school teachers and songs and just because I'd had it with everything I decided to teach them the original version of Jesus Loves the Little Children, the version before it was nice and before it was multi-racial and before they sang it in church. The version with scaffolds and dead people and a revolutionary sentiment.

Whether on the scaffolds high or the battle fields we die... I put a brogue into it, staring into the snow trying to find the lane's lines and trying to not look in the back seat at their clean faces in scandalized silence.

It'd looked like I wasn't going to get out of town at all, that Thanksgiving, like I was gonna have to cook a turkey in the dorm microwave and eat it in my beige brick room. I'd called a guy who'd given me a ride before, out to my Uncle's. He said he was taking all of his laundry home and just didn't have any room in his soft topped jeep, but I suspected it was the trip-long unfriendly silence we fallen into 20 miles into the trip after I'd said I was reading Ginsberg for break and he'd said, but wasn't he gay?

So I called these girls I didn't know and asked them for a ride. The carpool of fundamentalist sophomores going to Jersey and Pennsylvania, going to a house in Harrisburg as a hub and the girl who had the car, who was driving, said yeah come along. Then she called back an hour latter saying, you can still come if you want to but you need to know that some of the girls don't want you to come. They're uncomfortable. I'm not going to say yes and then no, but just so you know.

All of their bags were in the trunk, when I got there, so I stood my bag on end between my legs in the front seat, my knees against the glove box, and we set off on the turnpike in the fall, me staying silent so's not to be left behind at some truck stop. It started to snow. With the snow came the cars spun out silly down the embankments and the driver saying she was getting tired and the back seat singing hymns I'd never heard and refusing to take a turn driving.

When we got there I stood aside for the hustle of coming home, holding my bag. Everybody's parents and siblings were there in a driveway of lined up vans and the dog was barking and jumping and running around in circles. When I finally asked if I could get a ride they said it was out of the way even though they knew I knew it was about 12 miles that they wouldn't take me.

You can have the couch, the Harrisburg girl said, if you don't mind the dog. If you can't figure out the ride to your Uncle's, we're having a bunch of people over. So I slept on the couch. I had $3, a stack of books, a change of clothes and a short couch in a town where I didn't want to be. I was too broke to buy a train ticket and anyway they were making you buy them a week in advance, because of Al Qaeda.

When I woke up the sun had lit up the snow in a cold glare and the house was empty. The girl and the mother and the dog and the little brother who looked at me suspiciously, all of them were gone and there was just a note, answer the phone if it rings. It might be my dad who's a truck driver.

When the phone rang I tried to remember their last name but couldn't. I found it on an envelope in the trash but I couldn't figure out how it was pronounced so I just said hello? A big voice loud over truck noises said, so you must be the guy my daughter brought home from college.

It's not really like that, I said.

I'm sure, he said.
Mannequin's I've known
an ongoing series in a weird legend

1. Gertie, in the bathroom of a resteraunt in Pollard Flat surprising patrons.
2. Jane, in the window of the Washington coffee shop where her swimsuit caused some Christian conservatives to avoid the place.
3. Rita, in the back room of Hillsdale's coffee shop and art venue, missing a torso.

Nov 26, 2005

Slovoj Zizeck on why he is (now) a Christian Atheist: If an atheist were to take a survey of all the divinities, to select one, the atheist would have to choose the God who said 'my God my God why have you forsaken me.' At that moment God is himself in doubt. For a moment God was an atheist.

Nov 24, 2005

Nevertheless mercy

... the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.
          - Abraham Lincoln, proclaiming Thanksgiving a national annual holiday.

Nov 18, 2005

The one that changed things

Via Slate, a question for you: What was the most influencial book you read between the ages of 18 and 21?

Nov 16, 2005

Nov 15, 2005

'Call it pure being'

Somebody’s getting more chairs from the porch and I’m unloading the seven piles of books and the stack of legal pads and the lamp and the notes and they’re all on the floor by the bed, by the wall. We move the table out from under the window and we draw. Low tile. And we draw, seven black-printed square wood tiles on the little stand and we look at the blank board. Saying nothing. Focusing. Concentrating.

I can’t hear anything but the clatter of tiles and the senseless mental recycling of sounds.

Two weeks ago, or so, I started playing scrabble. So far as I can remember I had never played before – for no reason but chance, I suppose, it wasn’t a game we played in my house. Then I saw it sitting on the self of the coffee house and art venue where some of us go to hide and drink coffee and listen to music and do homework. Just saw it there and said what about scrabble? and we played a couple of games.

We’ve got like one month left and we’re saying the house is under crazy watch, watching for the signs, watching for the bugged eyes, the glazed eyes, for erratic behavior and the rage that wells up at the impossibility of it all. We’re watching for the laughing fits and the sentences losing syntax, for the manic rants and soul sinking depressions and the unexplainable fixations.

Anagram scrabble fixation and you get a rabbinic fest lox, or a ban blots if xeric. Anagram Hillsdale and you get all shield.

It’s sort of futile watch but we watch anyway. You can’t do much, but we watch, we watch and we say it’s gonna be okay and go to sleep and mostly we just try to be there. To cover for a friend. To be there when he busts loose and when you need to, to talk him down. To tranq him.

The other q without u words are the Arabic ones: qat, qaid, suq, qanat, qintar, qivuit, and faqir.

I left a party Friday night, bored, distracted, depressed by nothing and going slipping crazy. Went back to my room and played some music and stared and red and white stripes of the flag on my wall and then decided. Then I let go, let myself go over the line and found scrabble online. When I woke up the next morning my first thought was scrabble. All of my friends ended up at the all-night place eating pancakes and normally I would’ve been with them bumming money for a bottomless cup of coffee but I was sitting in a quiet room losing a game by 200 points. Losing by 200 points and wrapped in the consuming concentration, watching the tiles come apart and rearrange, watching them connect and disconnect and reconnect and feeling the cleansing wash of concentration where everything else is gone but the sounds without senses cycling though my head.

Update: A picture of Naomi, Tony, Jack and I playing last night in the middle of the night during a black out.

This afternoon I played someone who said he was from MA and used to be an accountant but is now on permanent disability for brain cancer. He beat me by a dozen points. It's so addicting, he told me.

Nov 10, 2005


I am going to be in Philadelphia from Nov. 18 to 21 for the American Academy of Religion & Society of Biblical Literature conference. Going to Baraboo Wisconsin for Thanksgiving.

Nov 7, 2005

The old men & the theodicy cat

They got together once a week to talk about the cat. Or really just to talk but it seemed like it was always about the cat. They’d get together for breakfast on Thursdays, some regular place where the food was cheap and the waitress could remember which of them wanted the orange-banded pot of decaf and which the regular stuff. They'd get together like old men and start talking about old men things and somebody’d say something about another ailment or about feeling old and that’d start it.

I hope I die soon, he’d say, I hope I die soon so I can stand before God and ask him about my cat.

The cat had had a name once but, being embarrassed by his own sentimentalism, he had only ever called it my cat, and since it was the only cat they ever talked about they had called it his cat and then, when it'd come to take up every conversation, they'd called it just the cat.

The cat was dead. She was dead and had died a horrible death, hit by a car, losing fur, squealing under the tires, crawling back with her back legs broken 40 yards to die on his steps. Rigamortis had set in when he saw her in the morning. Her tail was frozen out stiff like a frying pan handle.

That was the image he’d always go back to. Every time, he’d repeat it. Her tail was like a frying pan handle, he’d say. He imagined himself standing before God, standing before the judgment throne of the almighty omni-omni God and he’d say, hold on a second, and then he’d whip out the dead stiff cat and hold her there by her tail and wait for an answer. The image was ridiculous, but that was the point. Death was ridiculous and evil was ridiculous and it made God look ridiculous.

The friends would argue with him, trying to make it so the cat wasn't God's fault. They'd said that it was free will's fault, and that he couldn't question God, and that this was the best any God could do, and that the cat deserved it, and that it was for some greater good, and that evil after all didn’t exist and, really, they'd run pretty quickly through every traditional answer to the problem of evil. They'd even made up some new ones.

He'd hear their explanation and start telling over the story of how he’d had this cat since it was a kitten and she’d been a good cat who liked milk and purring and naps in the sun in the afternoons and then she had died a horrible death.

They were starting to get pretty frustrated with him. One of them would get mad at him and say nothing would satisfy you. What sort of answer do you want?

What sort of answer could there be? he’d say. Her tail was like a frying pan handle.


Original scene from Emmanuel Carrere’s I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey Into the Mind of Philip K. Dick

Nov 5, 2005

City and Country

Comment Magazine has begun a series on Urbanism and Agrarianism, with the publication of The Case for Paleo-Urbanism by Eric Jacobsen, author of Sidewalks of the Kingdom.

I'm fairly disillusioned with New Urbanism, since I first looked at it a few years ago. First, because the results (e.g. Celebration, FL and Santana Row in San Jose, CA) appear to me to be superficial and artifical, nothing but the bourgeois bohemian's eclectic nostalgia and actually containing some of the worst elements of suburbanism. Second, because New Urbanism doesn't seem to arise from an ethical ideal, or even to contain an ethical impulse, or to be any sort of commitment to community. Conversely, I'm more taken than ever with Wendell Berry-styled Agrarianism, which I don't take to be about where one lives, but how.

Nov 3, 2005

Nov 2, 2005

"If you was in Jerusalem," he says, "right now, tonight, in the tomb where Jesus laid 2,000 years ago, you couldn't get one bit closer than you can get in this room tonight. God is in this room," he says. "Speak to us, oh Lord."

The Washington Post has write up on revivalist Mike Ferree and classic Holiness Pentecostalism.
Kyle Lake, a 33-year-old pastor of University Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, who was a leader of the Emergent church movement, died of electorcution Sunday while standing in the church's baptismal.

May he rest in peace.

Nov 1, 2005

With this great cloud
All Saints Day with Elvis

Somewhere along on Montana’s east-west highway, between the historical sign for Custer and the one for Clark, along in there there’s a reader board that reads Elvis eats ribs here.

I’ve never known someone who believes in Elvis, who believes the tabloids and the stories about faked death and UFO interventions. I suspect that if there really are people who believe The King Lives, then they only say so in secret or under the cover of irony, only on silly annual celebrations.

I don’t know if Elvis was ever in Montana, but here he is, a ghost eating dinner in a diner on the highway. Elvis is dead, buried in a castle called Graceland, but people see him everywhere. People see him praying for peace in mosques in India, buying cigarettes at an EZ mart in Arizona, riding a moose and making movie cameos. It’s a long running joke, Elvis sightings, a joke about rhinestoned jumpsuits and white trash and wedding chapels.

It’s not just them, though, that are haunted. It's not just the crazies and the trailer trash and the impersonators practicing sideburns. That's the thing. Everybody's haunted by somebody.

The History Channel plays all the reels of Hitler in an endless loop: Hitler shouting, walking, staring, sighing, plotting, dieing. People are haunted by Jesus and JFK and Che, by Marx and Freud and their fathers. Lenin lay in state for years, preserved for the long lines that always came to see. And the long lines were haunted, you know, half by Lenin alive and half by Lenin dead, they were creeped by the immortality of a corpse, leaning in to look closely for a tint of blue.

Einstein's disected brain is in a bottle of formaldehyde on a shelf in some garage, the edges going fuzzy and floating off in little pieces. People are haunted by the gaunt face of Lincoln listening to Mary Todd go insane and feeling all the pain and the death of his war. If only, we think, if only Willie Mays could come back, if Elijah came back, if Martin Luther King hadn’t gone away.

So we're haunted by Elvis, his face, his voice, his fame and sorrow. We’re haunted by the whole hanging cloud of history. Images that won’t go away. Voice that we hear can’t stop hearing. Stories that continue to play. Ask us what we see and we say all the abstract things, evil and genius and salvation and horror and fame and failure. And the whole thing's restless, all of us restless and waiting for resolution.

See also Pentecost, Ash Wednesday.

Zeugma: n. zoog`-muh.

A construction in which a word, usually the main verb, governs two or more nouns when its sense is appropriate to only one of them or to both in different ways; in which there is a disparity in the way that the parallel members relate to the governing word.

Example: The two senses of the word "common" in Oscar Wilde's sentence, Oh, flowers are as common here as people are in London, or of the word "grew" in I grew alfalfa and bored.